Birth of a New Machine - Building a Cobra Kit Car
Copyright 1996, Daniel J. Sommers

Part 12: Time to Move Inside

After a challenging week at the office, it wasn't easy to obey the wake-up music on Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m. The snooze button looked very inviting, but I managed to crawl out of the crib and into the shower. Deb did the same, while I went out to the barn to bump the heat up to a comfortable temperature. Back in the house, I brewed a pot of coffee and read from my favorite book -- the official ERA Cobra 427 SC Assembly Manual.

By 7:00, the barn was warm, and we were ready to pick up where we had left off. We decided that Deb would tackle the carpeting in the trunk and the interior of the car as I attended to a list of other tasks, including the installation of the exterior lights, front and rear nudge bars (i.e., bumpers), and the roll bar.

Inside the car, there was still a gaping hole in the floor running from the firewall to the rear bulkhead. About two-feet wide at the firewall end, it tapered to a width of about nine inches at the rear. The transmission, its Hurst shifter, and stubby, little driveshaft filled this space and protruded up into the cabin a good amount.
To cover the drive train, ERA provided a one-piece fiberglass transmission tunnel. With this piece in place, we carefully followed instructions and, on the top surface, marked the center-point of what would become a four-inch hole for the shift lever.

To confirm that our measurements were correct, I used a two-inch hole saw to cut a "peep hole" and confirmed that the shift-lever mount was centered directly under the hole. Bingo. I used a fine-tooth blade in my air-powered body saw to enlarge the hole to its final four-inch size. I also added four small holes around the hole. After the carpeting was installed, these would be used to secure the chrome trim ring that holds the shifter boot in place.

For authenticity, we had decided to install an original-type ashtray in the transmission tunnel. This required cutting a small rectangular hole in the tunnel; the ashtray was designed to fit snugly into this hole. The ERA assembly manual did not include instructions about placement of the ashtray, so Deb and I referred to our Cobra photo library to determine where the hole should be cut. The result was perfect.

Knowing that big engines in small cars have a tendency to radiate heat into the passenger compartment, I decided to follow the advice given in the ERA manual and insulated the underside of the transmission tunnel. The aluminum-clad, self-stick, high-density foam material sold by building supply stores for insulating air ducts is perfect for this. After cleaning the underside of the tunnel to remove all dust, we applied the insulation and used a small wooden roller to press it down thoroughly and make sure it stuck well.

With the tunnel bolted in place, we used heat-shield insulation to cover the inside of the firewall and floor. This material would help deaden noise and reflect radiant heat. It also added a cushion of comfort under the carpeting. The 48- by 72-inch sheet of insulation we had purchased from J.C. Whitney provided more than enough material to do the job.

The interior was coming together well. We decided to take a brief break to review our progress and consult the assembly manual to find out what to do next. That's when Deb asked, "Where does the radio go?" Good question. The ERA manual didn't even mention a radio -- probably because the original Cobras were sold sans this important accessory.

We decided that there was room in the glovebox to conceal a radio, and we could install speakers in the kick panels, just in front of each door. But where do you put the antenna? Certainly, we would not drill a hole through that gorgeous fiberglass body to add an ugly stainless steel stick. Hmmm .. fiberglass? That was it!

Fiberglass is transparent to radio waves, so we decided that we would add a small, amplified antenna INSIDE the trunk and run the coaxial antenna cable under the carpeting and into the glovebox. After a quick trip to our local Radio Shack store, we had exactly what we needed and proceeded to route the antenna cable as planned.
Next, we made sure that the roll bar was aligned correctly and bolted directly to the frame with strong, grade-8 hardware. On ERA kits, the roll bar is functional -- as it was on the original Shelby Cobra 427 SC. We had learned that some of the other Cobra-kit manufacturers use a "cosmetic" roll bar that is not attached to the vehicle chassis.

ERA Cobra kits come with 26 pieces of carpeting -- all cut and trimmed to fit precisely. That afternoon, Deb spread newspapers on the floor and arranged the pieces of carpeting, again following the very explicit instructions in the manual. Armed with several spray cans of extra-strength trim adhesive, Deb meticulously started carpeting the trunk and worked forward into the cabin.

While she worked on the carpeting, I got busy installing the headlights, parking lights, and taillights. Cautiously, I temporarily connected the battery cables to the battery and clicked the left-most toggle switch up a notch. Success! The parking lamps and the taillamps worked. Up another notch, and the headlights came on. A click of the button that was concealed under the directional-signal-switch lever proved that the high beams worked too.

I turned off all the lights, timidly inserted the ignition key, and turned it to the "on" position. No smoke; good sign. The directional-signal lever was mounted on the right side of the steering column (just like the original Cobras), so I flipped the lever down to test the right directional lights. Voila! I could see flashing amber light projected on the front wall of the barn and flashing red to the rear. I flipped the lever up to test the left-side lights. They worked too. I smiled to myself, turned off the ignition switch, and disconnected the battery.
By that time, Debbie had finished carpeting the trunk. It looked great! Every piece fit perfectly. There were no loose ends, no gaps or spaces, and absolutely no wrinkles. It took us about ten minutes to install and align the trunk lid. This was the first area of the car that was really "done," and we were both extremely pleased with the result.

The next day, we were at it again by 7:00 a.m. While Deb worked on carpeting the interior, I installed the license-plate bracket and light, along with the front and rear nudge bars.

Both of us worked to install pockets on the interior of each door. After that was done, we installed the door latches and hung and aligned the doors. Jimmy and the guys at Phaze II had precisely fit each door when they prepped the car for paint and had drilled small guide holes through the hinges and mounting plates. To get a perfect fit, all we had to do was align the guide holes and tighten the mounting bolts.

The final task that day was to install ERA-supplied weatherstrip material on the doors and trunk. Rather than use the messy-type weatherstrip adhesive that comes in a tube, we decided to apply double-stick tape to the rubber weatherstrip material, then stick the weatherstrip to the fiberglass. The tape we used was designed for automotive moulding and trim installation, and it provides a very strong bond. The procedure worked very well and resulted in a very neat, relatively easy installation.
With carpeting, doors, trunk lid, lights, and bumpers installed, our collection of parts was well on its way to becoming a car. We had invested about 48 person-hours in the project that weekend and made great progress. But there was still much to do before we could twist the key and rule the road.

Next week: The home stretch